By Jason Heaton
on 4.6.10

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Everything tastes better when you’re camping. Whether it’s that first cup of coffee on a chilly morning or the last spoonful of chili at night, if you make it over a campfire or had to carry it in on your back, it’s all the more satisfying. That’s why I’m all for carrying a good cook set. Sure, you can go minimalist and carry just a Sierra cup and a backpack full of energy bars but part of the joy of eating outdoors is the care and effort that goes into making the food. The cook kit you carry can mean the difference between the joy of cooking and a (kitchen) campfire nightmare.

GSI Outdoors has been making camping cook sets for 25 years and they get the details right. Their Pinnacle series (Base Camper, Camper, Backpacker, and Hiker) are the most versatile, well-designed kits I’ve ever used. Two fatal flaws of most camp cook sets are weight and non-stick coatings. While some solve the first problem, making super light aluminum or titanium nesting pots and skillets, most lack a true non-stick coating that can hold up to rough treatment, hot spots and sticky foods. GSI Outdoors has managed to solve both problems while putting together a smart and compact set.

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I tried the Camper version and, while it was no lightweight, it’s designed more for car or canoe camping. If you plan to hump it in on your back, you’re better off with their smaller Backpacker or Hiker line. The Pinnacle Camper has everything you need to cook and serve for four people. The entire kit comes nested inside a seam-welded soft nylon “bucket” that doubles as a wash sink. You get two sizes of pots for boiling water or making soup, each with its own BPA-free plastic lid thoughtfully finished with strainer holes on one side for pouring off your pasta water. Nested inside the pots are four pie-shaped plastic bowls for eating and inside those, like Russian dolls, are four smaller cups with fitted drinking lids and neoprene cozies for insulation. Smart indeed. Also included are four plastic plates and the whole package is topped with a fantastic non-stick skillet. A folding pot handle is included, and it locks onto the pots and skillet for secure handling over the flames.

I took this kit on an early spring car camping trip and used it to make oatmeal, fried eggs, a hearty bean soup as well as for boiling water for coffee, tea and hot cocoa. All components were used and all performed flawlessly. Cleaning up after the eggs and oatmeal, usually a sticky process involving a scraper and foul language, was as easy as a rinse and wipe. The insulated drinking cups were genius and the color coded components were easy to keep straight among my camping mates. My only wish was that the pots had lips on one side for easier pouring, but that is a small gripe.

If you’re ready to channel Jacques Pépin instead of Bear Grylls next time you go camping, you’d do well to check out the GSI Outdoor Pinnacle series.

Buy now: $119

GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Cook Set Gallery

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